08 November 2015

A point earned or two dropped? Ask Manchester City.

Well, that was frustrating to watch. Coming into Sunday's derby, we knew that Manchester City had been held at Villa Park and that we had a golden chance at pulling ahead of them, if only for a few weeks. Instead, we sleep-walked through most of the first half while Tottenham pressed up the pitch, coming alive perhaps only as a result of Tottenham's tired legs in the second half. If those Spuds find the fitness they'd need to keep pressing, or if Pochettino figures out how to defend a lead, they're going to start inching up the table. For now, though, let's review how we ended up dropping two points at home to a hated rival...

One moment of madness is all it took.
It won't show up as an error that led to a goal, but Koscielny's attempt at playing Kane offside backfired, and this allowed Kane to go through on goal unchallenged. Kane was comfortably onside for Rose's pass and was untroubled as he ran into the box to slot past Čech, who narrowly missed making the save by diving right as Kane's shot went to his left. Tottenham would have other great chances, but this was one that resulted more from our own mistakes than their own industry. It was reminiscent of that harrowing 2-1 loss in 2013 when Bale and Lennon got in behind our defense to score. If Koscielny's timing had been better, if Čech had held his position rather than diving, if...

Alexis and Giroud just don't work well together...
Is it a coincidence that Alexis has hit a dry patch at approximately the same time that Giroud has resumed his role as centre-forward? His goal against Watford closed a six-match span in which he scored seven goals in four matches; since then, however, he's not scored at all in five matches—all of them alongside Giroud. Yes, Giroud has scored four goals in his last six appearances and is now apparently scoring more goals per minute than any other striker in the Prem, but at what cost? Hefar less clinical than Alexis, and his hold-up play seems to, well, hold Alexis up. Giroud has never assisted Alexis. Contrast that against the combination-play we'd seen from Alexis and Walcott, who've each assisted the other twice despite having never played so close together before this season. Alexis and Giroud have had plenty of time to develop better chemistry but just can't seem to make it work.

...and neither did Campbell and Debuchy.
Of course, neither of them has had much time on the pitch together, and so there is bound to be poor chemistry, but that doesn't explain just how poorly they seem to combine. There were times when it even seemed as if Campbell resented or even refused to pass to Debuchy despite his availability, as if giving Debuchy the ball might undermine his defensive contributions and force Campbell to track back even more. Most of Tottenham's attack was going to come down our right flank, and this did give Debuchy a chance to make nine tackles (most in either side). Whether this reflects his tenacity or Tottenham's tactics is an open question. Each player on his own was decent, but this is again a case when the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Tottenham could get into the top four.
Not just on this result, but on the basis of wider-ranging improvements Pochettino has instituted. I commented before the match on their new-found defensive organization, but I failed to address their high-energy pressing. It was only as their energy waned in the second half that we started to get the upper hand. If Pochettino can make adjustments to keep legs fresh, that style could deliver even more-impressive results—such as the one their mauling of Man City a few weeks ago. They've lost just one Prem match (at Old Trafford to start the season), Kane may have found his scoring boots after a sluggish start, and the squad as a whole looks much more c onfident than it has in recent memory.

At least we didn't drop points to relegation fodder...
Man City went into Villa Park to face a squad that seems determined to achieve relegation by Boxing Day but struggled to come away with a point, which is certainly two points dropped against a squad no one has any business dropping points against. Whereas we can gnash our teeth at dropping the same number of points at home against Tottenham, the opportunity cost is much lower to us than to City. Yes, they were without Silva or Agüero, among others, but we're without Wilshere and Welbeck and Walcott and Ramsey and Bellerín. One ingredient in the Prem-winning recipe is to keep all of the points in matches against clubs in the bottom half. City dropped the ball there; we simply dropped a few points.

I know that it stings to drop those points to a crosstown rival, but, strategically, it's not that big a deal. If anything, Tottenham have to come away the disappointed side. They had a plan, the plan was working, and we were playing poorly. Despite all of that, they could still manage just a draw on a day when they had outplayed us thoroughly. Emerging with a win would have given them more than three points. It would have given them confidence to carry them into future fixtures, whomever they'd face. 

We'll go into the the international break a bit frustrated, to be sure, but we'll come back with reinforcements and goet into a string of fixtures that is much softer than the one we've just come through.